Are you wondering how to start a digital marketing agency? Maybe you’ve committed to the idea, or maybe you’re just curious.
Either way, this article will tell you everything you need to know. It tells exactly how I started a marketing agency with no experience (and no budget) whatsoever. Keep reading – it’s a bit of a story.
How to start a digital marketing agency with no experience
I won’t lie to you; having experience is a huge asset in the world of digital marketing. However, it is possible to start a digital marketing agency with no experience at all. That’s what I did, and I’m not especially smart or talented. I just worked hard.
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How much does it cost to start a digital marketing agency?
Believe it or not, you can start a marketing agency for $0.
That’s right; you can get your marketing agency off the ground with no investment whatsoever.
Here’s how: you don’t need any freelancers, web designers or SEO experts – just yourself and an internet connection. Alternatively, you can hire other people to do the work for you on sites like Fiverr or OnlineJobs.ph.
Outsourcing at least part of your work removes some of the pressure, and frees up your time.
The most cost-effective way to start your agency is usually as an organic social media marketer.
Why? Because the skills required are fairly basic, and it requires absolutely no investment. As an organic social media marketer, you don’t need to pay for things like websites or sales funnels or ads. You just need to use your time and talent to get results.
10 steps to starting your digital agency
- Understand the legal and financial implications of starting a business in your area of residence. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert here, but at the very least I recommend registering as a business.
- Set your goals and decide what type of agency you want to be. Will you be a solopreneur? The leader of a team of freelancers? Or will you follow the drop servicing business model, outsourcing as much as possible? You may want to do some research and even interview other agency owners to benefit from their experience.
- Decide what type of clients you want to serve. Do you want to help beginning businesses for low rates, or work exclusively with enterprise organizations that can pay a premium? Nailing down a customer avatar and understanding their pain points is key.
- Determine what will differentiate your business and your services from competitors. According to Seth Godin’s purple cow metaphor, “fitting in is failing”. Ask yourself how you can be different from other agencies in a positive way.
- Get a professional logo made. I know, I said you could do this for free… and I also realize there are lots of free logo makers out there. But hear me out. Having a real logo will change the way you and others think about your business. Besides, you can get one for as little as $10 on Fiverr.
- Choose one social media platform and learn to dominate it. There are many advantages to starting your digital agency on social media. You will learn a skill you can sell to clients, and you’ll learn how best to serve your target audience.
- Register a domain name. Even if you don’t plan to set up a website for some time, I recommend getting a domain that is as close to your business name as possible. Otherwise someone else might snatch it up!
- Add new skills to your social media marketing prowess. Use your new experience to decide whether to double down on social or expand to other services. Always keep learning.
- Get a website and/or a sales funnel. This will give you an online hub to direct traffic to and make money.
- Expand, grow, scale, or stay small and serve the clients you love. As long as you’re earning a living and making a positive difference, consider it a success!
How do marketing agencies get clients?
There are a number of ways you can attract new clients to your marketing agency.
The first step is to create a customer avatar and build out your dream 100, which is a list of 100 real ideal clients you’d like to work with.
Let’s start with the most basic and work towards more complex methods.
Word of mouth (referrals)
I know this is fairly obvious, but the reality is that most agencies start out this way. It happens all the time. When you decide to start offering marketing services, don’t be surprised if a few opportunities emerge from your immediate or secondary social circles.
Word of mouth is actually one of the best ways to get clients, because people are more likely to pay someone who comes recommended by a friend or trusted colleague.
Once you have a few clients, the most natural way to grow is by having them refer others to you based on the results you help them achieve.
You’re probably already familiar with this method, which is also called outbound marketing. It involves reaching out to people who don’t know you or aren’t actively searching for your services right now. Cold outreach takes time and planning but can be effective if done correctly.
The advantage of cold outreach is that it’s fairly predictable. For example, if you’re decent at LinkedIn outreach or cold emailing, eventually you will know that for every 100 people you contact, a certain percentage will respond positively.
I’m not a fan of cold outreach because it’s time-consuming and basically involves annoying a lot of people. If I do any kind of outbound marketing, I do what I call lukewarm outreach. This just means that you find a way to enter someone’s social circle BEFORE you email them asking for work.
Organic social media
Organic social media can be a type of cold outreach, but you can also get people to approach you on social media if you create great content. Whether you’re posting on Instagram, in a Facebook group, or Twitter or Pinterest, if your post makes you seem like you can solve a common problem, people will reach out to you.
This happens to me more often by accident than anything else. I’m fairly active in a few Facebook groups, and every so often one of my posts will get hundreds of engagements and result in a dozen people or more DMing me asking for my pricing.
Here’s an example of a post I made in a group explaining some beginner-intermediate SEO tactics. The screenshot made for an excellent scroll-stopper, and the value of the post’s content really resonated with people.
It got over 200 engagements and over 100 comments, but the important thing is that a dozen entrepreneurs reached out to me asking for help! That’s the power of organic social media.
Running ads is one of the most reliable ways to get consistent leads and clients, but only if you know what you’re doing.
The great thing about paid ads is that, once they’re dialed in, you can turn them on or off with a couple clicks and get predictable leads for a fairly consistent price.
The bad thing about paid ads is that if you’re not great at them, you can spend a lot of money fast with nothing to show for it. Another issue is that people are becoming less and less trusting of advertisements, especially in certain industries such as online marketing.
The solution is to not rely solely on paid ads, even if you’re great at them. Combining paid advertising with some organic social media or SEO is a great way to increase your authority and get the most out of your ad spend.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization is, in many ways, my favorite method for getting clients. Once you start ranking for relevant search terms, potential clients will find you and contact you asking for a meeting with surprising consistency.
Of course, there are a few problems with SEO too. You can’t turn it on and off like you can with other methods. It’s either always working, or not working at all. And if it stops working (if you lose your organic search rankings for any reason), you may suddenly find yourself with zero leads where you used to have many.
Content marketing can be implemented on almost any platform. It is simply the publishing and sharing of marketing materials for the purpose of creating authority and interest in your business.
The great thing about content marketing is that it demonstrates a digital marketing service you can then sell, and if you do a good job it makes you seem like a successful agency even if you’re new.
Out of all the methods outlined here, this is the only one that I see nearly every digital marketing company engage in.
This is admittedly a method I have almost no experience with, but I figured I should mention it anyway. Business networking is the classic “do lunch with people you know and try to get them to hire you” approach.
The advantage here is that if you do business networking correctly, it’s actually a fairly reliable way to get your first client or two (or more). The disadvantage is that it can be tricky to make those initial connections if you’re introverted or shy.
To make things easier, you can consider joining a business networking group.
How can I get my first client?
The easiest way to get your first client or three is via a referral from someone you know. If this seems unlikely… Let me tell you a story.
When I started my digital marketing agency, I had no experience and a very limited social circle. Even so, within a few months of telling people I was in business, friends and family members started referring me to people I’d never met.
You may end up starting small, but it’s also possible for big, ideal clients to fall into your lap right away. You won’t know until you begin!
Of course, it’s also possible that no easy first clients will present themselves. If that’s the case, you’ll need to do some prospecting.
What is client prospecting?
Client prospecting is the process of finding business owners who may need and/or want your services. As a digital marketer you serve other entrepreneurs, which makes potential clients easy to find.
But how do you find the right ones – the prospective clients who really need your help?
Where to find businesses when prospecting
The first place I recommend looking for new clients is on the platform you chose to master. If you’re an Instagram specialist, search Instagram. If you’re a search engine optimizer, search Google. If you’re a twitter user… you get the idea.
Find the people who are using the platform for business purposes but not doing a great job. If you’re on social media, find poorly optimized profiles and posts that aren’t designed to please the algorithm. If you’re an SEO, find folks who are trying and failing to rank for relevant keywords.
For every digital marketer in the world who has mastered a marketing platform, there are hundreds of other entrepreneurs who are just starting out on it. Find them, reach out to them with free value, and work with the ones who need it most.
Conclusion – How to design a business that will last
As you can see, there are many ways to start a digital marketing agency and get your first client.
I recommend starting with whichever marketing platform you’re most comfortable on and then branching out from there.
It’s also worth noting that while it might be more difficult for introverted or shy people to attend business networking events, those who do often find their first few clients through this method!
The best way to know which strategy will work best for you is by testing them – one at a time. Do some prospecting in places like Facebook groups or on LinkedIn, then come back here and leave a comment to let me know how it goes!
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions About Starting a Marketing Agency
Here are some common questions beginners ask about getting started in digital marketing.
How do you attract clients?
If you want to attract clients (rather than chasing after them), content marketing is likely the best approach. If you do a great job and stay committed you might even become an influencer and have people seeking out your services constantly.
Is a digital marketing agency a profitable business?
Digital marketing can be an extremely profitable business, but it depends on how you run it. If you let clients slide on payments and buy every new software tool you see, you probably won’t be profitable!
How to start a career in digital marketing
If you want to get a job in marketing rather than start a business, the best approach is probably to take a course or three so you have some concrete skills to reference on your resume.